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Cartel Land

Vigilantes free a city from cartel violence in Mexico while paramilitary groups go after drug smugglers in Arizona.


Matthew Heinemann’s documentary is an uncomfortable film filled with contradictions that has good chances of winning the Academy Award despite some questionable conceptual choices. Heinemann pits a racist miniature militia in Arizona, that claims to fight against the Mexican drug cartels but mostly likes to harass illegal migrants, against a civilian militia in Michoacan, a Mexican city across the border. The leaders of the US militia complain about their difficult childhoods, tumultuous youth, and about illegal migrants stealing their construction jobs.

Michoacan is about 1500 kilometers away from the US/Mexico border. The charismatic leader of the Mexican “Grupe de Autodefensas,” Dr. José Mireles, shows photographs of the knocked off heads of his neighbors. His militia’s goal is to cast out the cartels. Initially, Mireles and his people succeed in their goal. The military tries to disarm the troupe, but the “Autodefenses” have the population on their side. Little by little, it becomes clear that their methods aren’t all that different from the cartel and that the cartel itself has infiltrated the Autodefenses. Heinemann literally puts himself in the line of fire. His images are spectacular, but the tidy comparison between the divergent groups in Mexico and the US appears artificial and ideologically charged.


Translation: Elinor Lewy


Original title: Tierra de carteles
Mexiko/USA 2015, 98 min
Genre: Action, Documentary, Drama
Director: Matthew Heineman
Author: Matthew Heineman
DOP: Matthew Heineman, Matt Porwoll
Montage: Matthew Heineman, Matthew Hamachek, Bradley J. Ross, Pax Wassermann
Distributor: DCM Filmdistribution
Release: 22.10.2015


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